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Speak Up slams Basin Plan reporting from ABC

An advocacy group has slammed what it calls “inaccurate and harmful” reporting of an issue that is crucial to rural communities and the national prosperity.

Speak Up Campaign chair Shelley Scoullar said rural Australians are “fed up” with unacceptable media standards, and the lack of effort to ensure crucial issues are reported accurately and with balance.

Mrs Scoullar said the latest example was from the ABC’s national environment and science reporter Michael Slezak and his reporting of Australia’s State of the Environment document, in which he used selective information that presented a false picture of Murray-Darling Basin Plan progress in broadcasts and on-line, including ABC National News.

Mr Slezak stated that “among the litany of problems documented in the report were observations that … of the 450 gigalitres of water for the environment promised under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, only 2 gigalitres have been delivered”.

“Firstly, we have been unable to find a reference in the report to the ‘2 gigalitres of the 450 gigalitres’ which is selective rhetoric that has only recently been used, mainly for political advantage. We have to question whether it even exists in the State of the Environment report that documents progress to 2016 … six years ago.

“The figure is also both inaccurate and highly misleading and we cannot understand why anyone with any genuine knowledge of the Basin Plan would suggest only two gigalitres has been delivered. In fact, the water recovery target under the Basin Plan is 2,750 gigalitres. Of this, more than 2,100 gigalitres have already been recovered and there is an additional 605 gigalitres that can be recovered through projects that deliver environmental outcomes.

“Then, there is a target of 450 gigalitres of what is termed ‘upwater’, which can only be acquired if strict social and economic criteria are met. How is it possible that these numbers can be so badly skewed by our national broadcaster, unless it is to continue promoting an ideological agenda?

“The ABC bias against rural communities throughout the Basin Plan process has been extremely disappointing. There continues to be little effort to report all aspects of the Basin Plan and its inadequacies. While we support the plan, there are areas where it needs to be improved. Our rural communities are trying desperately to work collaboratively with governments and bureaucracies to deliver the balanced and effective plan that was originally promised, but we are handicapped by media bias which feeds political agendas,” Mrs Scoullar said.

In his report, Mr Slezak also highlighted that 78 per cent of Australia’s coastal saltmarshes have been lost since European colonisation and they continue to decline.

“Perhaps he could look more closely at this issue, in particular the Lower Lakes in South Australia. They were historically an estuarine system, but have been turned into a freshwater system by using barrages to hold back seawater. We’re sending water from Hume and Dartmouth Dams to the end of the system to provide South Australians with recreation lakes.

“In doing so we are damaging parts of the Murray River that the Basin Plan is supposed to protect. Why don’t we see ABC outrage over this? Or perhaps that does not suit their agenda,” Mrs Scoullar suggested.

“They could also highlight the indisputable fact that if the full 450 gigalitres is recovered, it cannot be delivered to South Australia because it simply will not fit down the river system. But we don’t see much of that issue from the ABC either.”

Mrs Scoullar said in the State of the Environment Report it clearly stated the Basin Plan “included 2750GL of water to be recovered from consumptive use and returned to the environment”.

“Additionally, as this is a 2016 report it was completed when Basin Plan implementation was in its infancy. Yet in these early stages the report states the plan has contributed to ‘ecological benefits for stream metabolism, macroinvertebrates, vegetation, frogs and fish’.

“The report says there have been improvements in the condition of native vegetation, recruitment of water birds and fish to waterways, and declines in salinity. But we don’t see these positive outcomes in this ABC report, and have to ask: Why?

“Is it because ABC journalists in capital cities are so far removed from what is actually happening that they are unable to adequately understand and report it?

“Whatever the reason, it is not good enough. Hard working Australians deserve access to unbiased reporting and the full story, from their tax-funded journalists,” Mrs Scoullar said.

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